Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971

  • A 10-year old rape victim is seeking the mercy of the court to get permission for abortion.
  • But the court is fettered by Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 in allowing abortion of a pregnancy caused by sexual assault.
  • Supreme Court was constrained to seek the opinion of a panel of doctors to “affirm” if the health of a 10-year old, in Chandigarh, will be “adversely affected if her pregnancy is allowed to be full term”.


What is MTP Act, 1971? 
  • Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations.
  • One, the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury of physical or mental health, or
  • Two, there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
  • The MTP Act allows abortions of more than 20-week pregnancies only when “it is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman”.
  • It also requires the judiciary’s sanction for such abortions.


Recent issues
  • In many occasions, the court has rejected abortion petitions on the ground that its hands are tied by the MTP Act
  • In January, it did allow a rape victim to abort a 24-week old foetus that had severe abnormalities, but only after a panel of doctors ruled that the pregnancy could put her life in danger.
  • A month later, the same court cited the constraints imposed by the MTP Act while refusing permission to a woman to abort her 26-week old foetus that would be born with Down’s Syndrome


Why the act should be amended?
  • There is near unanimity among medico-legal experts that the MTP act has failed to keep up with changes in science.
  • They argue that foetal abnormalities show up after 18 weeks and a two-week window after that is too small for the parents to take the difficult call on keeping their baby.
  • The growing number of sexual crimes against women and the need to empower them with sexual rights have also made it imperative that the MTP Act be changed.


What the draft MTP bill 2014 provides?
  • The draft MTP increased the legal limit for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
  • It provides for abortion beyond 24 weeks under defined conditions.
  • The Bill amends Section 3 of the 1971 Act to provide that “the length of pregnancy shall not apply” in a decision to abort a foetus diagnosed with “substantial foetal abnormalities” or if it is “alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape”.
  • Under the 1971 Act, even pregnant rape victims cannot abort after 20 weeks, compelling them to move court.
  • It allows a woman to take an independent decision in consultation with a registered health-care provider.
  • It also takes into account the reality of a massive shortage of both doctors and trained midwives, and seeks to allow Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha practitioners to carry out abortions.
What does SC in this issue?
Appoint permanent medical boards to provide women, especially rape survivors, urgent access to medical care and to consider their requests for abortion.



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